Responsive Call to Worship
We gather in this place
not to harbor any false illusions
about the nature of our world
or the nature of people.
We gather not to deny that horrible things happen
or that people do horrible things to each other.
We are not here to pretend
or to ignore,
but to claim that amidst the way the world is
and amidst the way people are,
there is another way
to which we are called
that is the way of God—
a way of being
and a way of relating to others
characterized by respect and grace.
It’s a way of living that values the other as other—
and so that values listening
as a sign of respect for the dignity and freedom of another—
that values a mutuality to relationship—
in the very image of God’s way of loving.
1 in 4: the number of women who will be victims of severe violence
by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults in the USA.
10,000,000: the number of children exposed to domestic violence every year.
— Safe Horizon and Huffington Post
Every 9 seconds in the US, a woman is assaulted or beaten.
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victim of some form
of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
— National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Myth: Rape and sexual assault are about sexual attraction and gratification.
Fact: Rape and sexual assault are all about control and domination.
Myth: When it comes to sex, men can be provoked to “a point of no return.”
Fact: Men are physically able to stop at any point during sexual activity.
Rape is not an act of impulsive, uncontrollable passion;
it is a premeditated act of violence.
— West Virginia University Students’ Center of Health
Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah,
and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh.
He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead
he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord,
and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand,
then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me,
when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s,
to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.’
So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them;
and the Lord gave them into his hand.
He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer
to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty towns,
and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued
before the people of Israel.
Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah;
and there was his daughter coming out to meet him
with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child;
he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her,
he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter!
You have brought me very low;
you have become the cause of great trouble to me.
For I have opened my mouth to the Lord,
and I cannot take back my vow.’ She said to him,
‘My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord,
do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth,
now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies,
the Ammonites.’ And she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me:
Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains,
and bewail my virginity, my companions and I.’
‘Go,’ he said and sent her away for two months.
So she departed, she and her companions,
and bewailed her virginity on the mountains.
At the end of two months, she returned to her father,
who did with her according to the vow he had made.
She had never slept with a man.
So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year
the daughters of Israel would go out
to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
Witness of the Living Word, i.
I am so sorry to be missing today’s service, as the subject area is one that I am passionate about. My family is actually at Little League Day at Camden Yards watching Aidan parade around the bases….perhaps feeling a tad bit “lighter” than if we were listening to me right now.
I understand that the subject matter of today’s service includes sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape. Thankfully, I don’t have any personal experience with these horrific acts. But, some of you know that I have been a Social Worker for 10 years – many of which have focused on working with victims of these crimes. I won’t bore you with my resume, but I do want to tell you a little bit about my past experiences just so you know where I’m coming from.
I worked for the Baltimore County Sexual Abuse Treatment Program for several years – working with the families of child victims of sexual abuse and running a treatment group for pre-adolescent victims. Then, I transitioned into Forensic Social Work – investigating allegations of sexual abuse and conducting forensic interviews of alleged child victims. In this position, it was literally my job to encourage…..sometimes gently persuade…..a child to tell me their inner-most secrets, their most horrifying experiences, their scariest memories, and their most vulnerable state of being. Some of you may watch tv shows that demonstrate such interviews of children – it is exactly like what you see on tv……only it feels so much more intense, and often disturbing, in person and in the moment with the child. For some reason, I felt called to do this work…..so I kept on doing it. For the past 3 years I worked for the Special Victim’s Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office for Baltimore City. Again, just like Law and Order SVU, the Special Victim’s Unit (SVU) works with victims of some of the most heinous crimes one could imagine. SVU handles child physical abuse cases, child sexual abuse cases, child homicides, adult sexual assault and rape cases, domestic violence cases, and elder abuse cases. On any given day, SVU carries between 350-400 active cases…..and these are just those crimes occurring in Baltimore City…..and of those, only the ones being prosecuted.
As a Social Worker in this unit, I continued to conduct forensic interviews of child victims and adult victims with cognitive delays. I also supported individuals and families as they prepared for trial and testified in Court. Mainly, however, I just did a lot of sitting with people and listening. For whatever reason, and there are a lot of them, many victims of these crimes don’t seek counseling in order to deal with their trauma….but they still need to talk. So, the detectives, the Assistant State’s Attorneys, and I were there to listen. We considered it a privilege to listen….and were honored that people felt able to share with us.
What we often heard seemed like nothing less than existential crises. “Why did this happen to me?” “How could this have happened to my daughter/son/wife?” In less specific words, people were asking “Where did I go wrong in my life to deserve this?” I have seen first-hand that Baltimore has many faith-filled people. Some people I worked with would say, “Well, this must have been God’s will.” They seemed to be searching for something…..anything…….that might answer the question “why.” And, I just don’t know “why.” I have never been able to answer this question for any of the victims I’ve worked with – or for myself.
I personally don’t believe that God has a hand in these awful, devastating, life-altering, sometimes life-ending acts. I did, however, see God every single day in the aftermath of these acts. I’ve seen families united and working together to support their loved one. I’ve seen women – still scarred physically and emotionally – face their rapist and take the witness stand to re-live their horrifying experience…..for the simple reason that they wanted to protect other people. Though people sometimes say that a victimized child has lost his or her innocence through these crimes – I have seen victimized children with their innocence intact…..still trusting and loving unconditionally, still believing in their childhood and playing freely. And I’ve watched detectives, Assistant State’s Attorneys, and others fight……hard……for justice. Whatever justice means for that victim. Many of these service people literally don’t sleep until a suspect is apprehended, or a case is resolved without a victim having to testify, or a guilty verdict is returned, or a defendant enters appropriate treatment. These people always seem to be placing others before themselves.
The members of SVU have chosen this population to serve – and their passion has to come from somewhere. A child’s unwavering innocence has to come from somewhere. A victim’s strength to testify and devotion towards preventing this pain in others has to come from somewhere. I believe this “somewhere” is God’s hand at work. Seeing all of these things is what has given me hope over the years. When I find myself growing too jaded, or focusing too much on the bad in this world, or spending too much time stuck on the “why’s” or other unanswerable questions, these things are what I think of to get me through and to “feel” God once again.
Additional Hymn Verse
Let your heart be broken, by what people do,
thinking not of others, love and grace eschewed.
Selfishly ignoring any other soul,
tacitly abhorring God’s created whole.
Witness of the Living Word, ii.
It’s a terrible story we heard read this morning—
the story of Jephthah and of Jephthah’s daughter
from the book of Judges.
The word of God, yes.
But there’s nothing right about it.
Nothing exemplary, holy or good—
And the only lesson I can glean from it
is a negative:
don’t allow a distorted vision of God
to lead you to act in ways contrary to God.
And that, unfortunately, remains a horrifyingly relevant word
to and for us these days,
in which God is all too often invoked,
to justify terror—
and I’m talking about us and our tradition,
not about any them—certainly not about Islam.
I am more and more suspicious
of worship, religion, and politics
that has more to say about them than to us.
Jephthah is also mentioned
in the New Testament.
He’s referred to in Hebrews
(Hebrews 11:29-40, if you’re interested),
included in a list of the faithful—
named as one of that great cloud of witnesses that surround us
The word of God, yes.
And again, we’re left struggling to understand.
What was the writer of Hebrews thinking?
And I’m guessing the writer of Hebrews
was trying to make a point—
an exhortation, actually—
compiling a list
to inspire us,
and simply took names from the Old Testament stories.
I’m guessing that writer did what many do—
if it’s in the Bible, isn’t it then, obviously, good and right?
We might wish he had been more careful.
We would suggest, would we not?—
there needs to be more of an evaluative dimension
to those we would uplift as models of faith—
even if they’re in the Bible—even if they’re clergy—
even if a lot of other people listen to them.
Just because they’re in the Bible—
just because their story is told within stories of faith—
just because they’re admired and followed,
doesn’t mean the way they lived into their faith
is necessarily always something to admire.
Sometimes it’s something to abhor.
Sometimes it’s something to reject.
Sometimes it’s something from which you can only glean a negative.
Don’t be like that. Don’t do that.
So now I want to remind you of a couple of other terrible stories
from the sacred texts—the holy scriptures.
In Genesis 34, we find the story of Dinah,
daughter of Jacob and Leah,
who was raped by Shechem, a Canaanite prince,
who was subsequently killed by Simeon and Levi,
two of Dinah’s brothers.
And in 2 Samuel, the 13th chapter, we read the story of Tamar,
daughter of King David and Maacah,
who was raped by her half-brother, Amnon,
David’s first-born son,
who was subsequently killed by Absalom,
Tamar’s brother, David’s third-born son.
Well, isn’t this just a fine, uplifting, edifying Sunday!
What on earth are we doing,
and why in heaven’s name are we doing it?, you might wonder.
And I have an answer.
How good an answer, you’ll have to decide!
Kendall Rothaus, is the pastor of Lakeshore Baptist Church in Waco, TX.
She followed Dorisanne there in service and ministry.
I met and heard Kendall at the Alliance convocation last month
already having read an article she wrote in Baptist News Global
in which she referred to “rare moments
when religious leaders [acknowledge] publicly
in a liturgical context the cultural and institutional silence
surrounding sexual violence”—
the rarity of which strikes her “as a sad failure of the church.”
“When I think back,” she writes, “over my long history
as an active part of the church,
I cannot remember a single instance when I heard a sermon on rape,
aside from the ones I have preached myself.”
And why is that important, you might ask.
Why does that need to be preached?
Why is that important enough to make for an uncomfortable—
a disturbing worship experience?
Well—first, a reminder—a more general comment:
while there is so much of what worship is that is comforting,
comfortable does not rank high on my list of what worship should be.
And, more specifically, what we do and don’t talk about—
what we are willing and not willing to talk about—
in worship is important.
Over the course of the ongoing conversation that is our worship,
we want people to know that we know,
as we affirmed in our responsive call to worship,
that horrible things happen
and that people do horrible things to each other.
We don’t want anyone to feel like what they’ve experienced
what they’ve been through
is somehow out of bounds—
that it excludes them from faith and fellowship and worship—
from the love of God and the love of God’s people—
and that it isn’t acknowledged and addressed by people of faith
gathered in worship
who weep with those who weep.
I believe it to be of the utmost importance
that no aspect of life not be included in worship—
because our living is supposed to be interpreted by our worship
which must then be absolutely honest—
not hiding behind lies of omission—
not distorted into some fantasy life.
There are also those aspects of and to our culture
we need to condemn—
that it is incumbent upon us to condemn.
We spent the weeks leading up to and immediately following Easter
naming various madnesses taken for granted in our culture:
the priority of obscene profits,
the insane pace of our culture,
the ways in which fear is exploited and manipulated,
the systemic racism.
During our lectionary sabbatical
we’ve been taking our cues from what’s going on in our culture
sometimes that’s fun …
or sometimes I think it’s fun!
When we’re confronting Halloween
and superficial commercial Christmas
and March Madness
and the weekends of the Triple Crown.
But sometimes, it is the church’s responsibility
to note shadow truths—
the madnesses accepted and even taken for granted—
the realities of our culture
that we don’t particularly want to acknowledge.
Because worship is not about pretending the world isn’t as it is—
that there isn’t evil
that touches lives in horribly destructive ways.
I’m sure most of you parents—
and all of you who love our children—
encourage and teach them to have fun,
but to be careful.
We carefully prayerfully walk that line
between cultivating anxiety and vigilance.
And if you’re like me, you hate it—
navigating that terrible thin line.
But, like care for our children, pastoral care is naming what’s real
always hopefully in the context of love and hope.
But like the Bible not shying away from what’s ugly and terrible—
and thank God for sacred texts that don’t!
Kelly’s hard hard words
(and I knew a little of what she’s been doing,
but not the full extent of her ministry—did you?
thank God for Kelly!)—
her hard hard words remind us
of what’s real for all too many—
that this is what we work with—
the world in which we live—
the world in which we offer good news,
but good news with integrity—
in which we are to live lives of love and grace—
in which we are to live an alternative story
to so many of the stories of our culture.
And the sick story of violence against women—
the violence in the home—
is epidemic in our culture.
6,488 US servicemen were killed in Afghanistan
between 2001 and 2012.
In that same time frame, 11,766 US women
were killed by current or ex male partners
But it’s always easier to go to war with them—
some them—any them,
than to go to war with the way things are—
to battle the status quo—
to campaign against our priorities and norms.
It’s far easier to target them—who are different,
than to admit that what we really need to target
is not what’s different but what we accept as same.
It’s always easier to seek to force their submission to us and our ways
than to submit ourselves to God and God’s ways.
And, hard truth here, it is our culture.
We may reject implications of it.
We may hate aspects of it.
But we live in it.
We are a part of it.
And we are either resisting it,
working to intentionally be transformed within it,
or we conform to it.
And then this becomes so theological—in two ways.
First, underscoring the importance of consent—
the importance of affirming that we do not make choices for each other.
We affirm consent in relationships with others, absolutely,
but also in relationship with God—
even as God consents to us—to our will—our choices.
It’s simple and it’s basic.
It has to do with free will.
It has to do with respect—
respect for individuals created in the image of God—
respect for individuals
be they male or female, old or young,
be they gay, lesbian, transgendered,
be they popular or not,
be they easy to like or not,
be they rich or poor—
it just doesn’t matter.
Every person on the face of the earth
is created in the image of God—
any one of whom may say no to us—
may say no to God.
We as those who follow God in the way of Jesus
do not force anyone into relationship.
And we will not be forced into relationship ourselves.
Nor are we forced into faith.
And we take that a little farther here, I think.
We’re not scared into faith.
We’re not guilted into faith.
We’re not manipulated into faith.
This in a world in which women are objectified.
Men are too, but not to the same extent.
This in a world in which people are objectified
all the better to be exploited—
to be used,
and when it comes to people,
when someone is used,
they’re in truth abused.
It’s simple and it’s basic.
It has to do with free will.
It has to do with respect—
respect for individuals created in the image of God.
If relationships do not manifest that fundamental respect—
that acknowledgement of another’s free will,
then God has been distorted to justify our lack of respect.
(that was all the first theological point—
the vital nature of respect and consent)—second,
in our boys-will-be-boys,
we need to be reminded
that amidst what’s hard and terrible
God stands always with the ones hurting—
the ones rejected—
the ones ignored—
the weaker ones—
the ones struggling—
the ones made fun of—
the ones beaten up—
And we either stand with God,
or we stand against God.
And that has more to do with who we’re standing with
than anything we profess.
We as those who follow God in the way of Jesus
are called to a more respectful way of relating to others—
We can have hopes for another.
We can pray for another.
But that’s it.
To assume power over someone
is in accord with too many of the ways of the world
and not the ways of God.
So we are called to stand against what is too common—
to reject any behavior that objectifies-
to stand with those victimized—
to lend our voice to their cry—
to encourage their resistance—
their attempts to rebuild—
their rejection of what was—
to reject any justification of what was done to them
in the name of God
or in the name of anything else.
So we are called to teach our children respect for the other—
to teach our girls they deserve respect,
and our boys that they do too,
and that that respect for another and for the self
has very practical implications
for how to live and how to relate—
how to treat no one as object—
as someone to be used which means abused.
We are called to point out commercials and billboards
and TV shows and music and movies
that objectify people:
“Do you see that?
Do you get it?
Do you see what that’s doing to that person?”
We are called to proclaim
that manipulation and force are not about the strength of desire
let alone will,
but rather about a weakness of character—
a lack of self-esteem
and respect and trust.
We are called to explicitly proclaim and affirm
that God does not manipulate,
and that we do not manipulate—
which is to say we respect each other
and trust relationships and conversations
to unfold into healthy possibilities
and a future characterized by love and hope.
This in the way God respects us
and trusts our relationship and our conversation
to unfold into the redeeming of all creation.
For the sake of us all—
for the sake of our children—boys and girls—
for the sake of creation,
may it be so.
Introduction to the Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
We are grateful for the unabashed honesty of our holy texts.
Amidst its absolute honesty about what goes on in the world,
the Bible consistently extends a vision of an alternative.
So amidst the way things are,
hear again the vision of God:
Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Romans 12:1-2, 9-10
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,
by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
so that you may discern what is the will of God—
what is good and acceptable and perfect….
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
outdo one another in showing honor.